Murder case back before Supreme Court




Prosecutors are hoping the Nevada Supreme Court rejects a third appeal from a Salvadoran man accused of the January 2019 murders of Gardnerville Ranchos residents Connie Koontz and Sophia Renken.

Wilber Guzman is awaiting a September trial in the murders of four Western Nevadans.

Washoe District Attorney Chris Hicks and Douglas County District Attorney Mark Jackson are asking the court to stop hearing appeals before the case has been tried.

“Judicial economy and the purpose of the final judgment rule are not served by this court’s intervention into the district court’s day-to-day litigation management in the case,” the prosecution argued in a March 18 filing. “Intermediate appeals ‘present the very inefficiencies in judicial economy that the final judgment rule seeks to prevent.’”

 “This is Guzman’s third petition for extraordinary relief and one with the thinly veiled purpose of gaining a continuance of his motion deadline and trial without making a showing of good cause to the district court,” prosecutors said. “This court’s review will not promote judicial economy. Rather it will destroy orderly administration of justice by encouraging Guzman and other litigants to turn to this court for relief from any scheduling order or order denying a motion to continue.”

A challenge to Guzman’s appeal dealing with his indictment by the Washoe County Grand Jury is scheduled for oral arguments before the Supreme Court on April 7.

The issue at hand in the latest appeal is a motion to seek an indefinite delay in the trial scheduled to start on Sept. 20 until a defense expert can fly to El Salvador to interview Guzman’s family members. 

The defense claims that Guzman is intellectually incapable of participating in his case, which would result in an indefinite stay of the trial.

The expert was planning to fly to El Salvador in March of 2020, but was prevented by the coronavirus outbreak.

Prosecutors argue that there are alternatives to flying to El Salvador to interview family members.

“The district court expressed a concern about delaying the case, potentially for years, so that Guzman’s expert could conduct in-person interviews of Guzman’s family and friends in El Salvador and ordered Guzman’s counsel to produce evidence showing why they could not conduct the investigation through alternative means.”

According to evidence offered during a July 2020 hearing, Guzman was able to communicate with various family members from the Washoe County Jail.

“Guzman also called persons located in El Salvador 69 times from the Washoe County Jail prior to the July hearings,” according to prosecutors.

Washoe County Judge Connie Steinheimer denied a defense motion for a continuance in December 2020.

The court also set an April 12, 2021, date for Guzman to file the motion seeking to have declared intellectually disabled with an evidentiary hearing set for two weeks on May 17.

Should the Supreme Court rule next month that the Washoe County Grand Jury doesn’t have the authority to indict Guzman for the Douglas County cases, he would have to be tried in Douglas on those murders. Jackson’s involvement in the Washoe proceedings may help with those proceedings. If the case was ordered tried in Minden, judges here would have to appoint new counsel, since Guzman is represented by the Washoe Public Defender’s Office.


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